Robots and strange creatures are taking over worlds, sent by an evil mastermind. But not all hope is lost, Mike and Dorian are still here, kicking butts as only Zheros can!
Genre(s): Action | Beat ’em Up
Developer: Rimlight Studios
Publisher: Rimlight Studios
Release Date: February 2016
Played: Main Campaign
Purchase At: Steam
Zheros is a 2.5D Beat ‘em up where you play as one of two characters: Mike, who’s always picking his nose with a vacant stare and Dorian, who’s always doing yoga poses. They might not look like much, but they’re badasses, and the only thing standing in the way of the villain’s plans of worldly conquest. The opening cutscene shows Dr. Vendeta—if the name, sharp teeth and classic evil top hat don’t give it away, he’s the bad guy—sending his robot armies, only for our heroes to take them out in seconds, forcing him to send even more and starting the game. No one likes having their minions taken out in a cinematic!
It’s not much of a plot and there’s really no storytelling or characterisation in Zheros, just a barebones excuse to get the fighting started, something a lot of Beat ‘em Ups do, so I really won’t hold it against Zheros. The characters have their quirks, but you only know what their animations convey of their personalities and interests, which is not much to be honest.
Visuals are beautiful, very colourful and vibrant and character designs in Zhero remind me a lot of the The Incredibles with just a hint of Blizzard’s Overwatch. From the main characters to the villain and enemies, everyone looks straight out of a Pixar film and I think that helps sell the over the top nature of the game and its protagonists.
Another nifty bit about the graphics in Zheros is that the developers added a screen-shake effect with each blow and while some have reported nausea from it, to me it added weight to the strikes, so each kick and punch feels like it hit and really did damage.
Sadly, the animations in the game do what no animation should ever do: interfere with the gameplay. When playing the Zheros I kept failing because of what I thought was input lag—meaning a button press didn’t take effect immediately but seconds after—but according to the Steam community for the game and other publications and reviewers, it turns out it’s the animations interfering with the button mashing. The animations have to finish completely before the next input kicks in, throwing off your inputs and combos. It makes fighting really slow and even waiting out the animations before hitting the button doesn’t guarantee they’ll trigger properly, which in turn will make building combos and defeating enemies very difficult.
The music is pretty nice even though as a general rule I loathe dubstep. But in Zheros it just feeds into the rhythm, so when you just end up fighting to the beat. The shrill parts of dubstep—and the main reason I hate that music—just falls into the background the background and combat noises drowns them out.
Now let’s get to the important part of Zheros: the combat and character progression. Putting the animation-induced input lag to the side—and it’s difficult because it affects everything—the combat is pretty nice, letting you combine light and strong attacks for special moves, giving you a shield to block and reflect damage and even roll away. You also have a wrist-mounted and overgrown machine gun t spray enemies and whittle at their health, though this drains your energy reserves fairly quickly.
If you don’t get hit, and stun-locked, you can build up your combo and even deal damage to enemy groups all at once. Similar to Devil May Cry there are combo levels, but unlike that game where high combo chains give you extra rewards when you clear a stage, in Zheros the high combo chains have no mechanic benefit other than keeping track of how high the chain is. It feels like a missed opportunity and makes combos something of style but no substance.
Between stages you can upgrade your Strength, Gun or Shields, with the latter two reducing their energy costs for blocking and firing. Upping strength grants you more combat moves but it doesn’t make you more powerful, same as the shield upgrades not giving you any more health. You are always as powerful as when you start Zheros. That is, not at all. So no matter how much you upgrade, enemies will always take the same damage from your moves, making some of the tougher enemies a chore and an exercise in anger management.
You level up by collecting money in the stages, from boxes and enemies, similar to the Red Orbs in Devil May Cry. But unlike Dante’s game where you spend them correctly, in Zheros your token total gets tallied up at the end and if you’ve collected enough you can earn up to two upgrade points to use in the character development screen. With more levels having higher costs, it gets to the point where you have to clear multiple levels—collecting everything in sight—to level a single ability, and with no real power increase just more moves to the repertoire, it gets progressively harder to defeat the new enemies, to the point where the frustration will make you quit.
I had to finish Zheros on Easy, something I felt bad about for a while—not because it made me feel casual or some other nonsense like that, but because it felts like giving up. But then, while playing on both Hard and Normal difficulties, I noticed the difficulty levels were completely unbalanced. On Hard, enemies have almost triple the health, can take you out in very few hits, and the timed missions don’t take this into consideration and give you the same amount of time to clear the stage as they do in lower difficulty settings. Bosses are ridiculously overpowered and give you very few windows for attacks and all their moves deal massive damage. There are serious balance issues in this game. Also, to hell with the Space Cows…to hell with you.
And that’s just the combat, the main draw for the game, but then there are also platforming sections and stun-locking traps that deal a fair amount of damage, and the severe lack of checkpoints—there very few for the frankly very long levels—and you can understand why Zheros stops being fun and becomes a tiresome experience.
Zheros has the makings of a fantastic game, but it’s too unpolished. The fighting and progression mechanics lack depth and its own animations get in the way of gameplay. They need to address the balancing issues and perhaps drop a few more checkpoints around the levels. What disappoints me the most is that I can see how good it can be, the potential is there…just not yet.
2.5/5 – Average